Why I Won’t Be Playing Eldrazi At MTG GP Bologna
A few weeks back, shortly after Spinter Twin was banned in Modern, I wrote an article where I explained why I felt it was a bad decision to remove the card from the format. Loads of you guys weighed in on the debate (which was great by the way, thank you!) and it was clear that whilst plenty of people agreed with me, many others disagreed and felt that the format would have more room to breath without Twin bossing everybody around, acting like a hall monitor, handing down detentions to unruly pet decks which had the temerity not to be able to interact with the turn four kill.
Before we go any further, I’d like to direct you to this piece of music, which I believe sums up my feelings after Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch perfectly…
OK, so that was a little bit childish, but at least it’s a belter of a tune. If you hadn’t come across The Hives before, you’re welcome.
Now, in the aforementioned article I believe I used the phrase “post-apocalyptic combo wasteland” to describe my expected post-ban metagame. Frankly, I was being a bit melodramatic. I was deliberately exaggerating, just a tadge, for dramatic effect.
I didn’t realise that it would end up being even worse than I’d anticipated in the darkest moments I spent cradling my Pestermites, sobbing gently. The Eldrazi are here, and they’ve torn the format in two. Reality has indeed been smashed. The fundamental matter of the format has been reshaped. Even if you are among those who welcome our new Eldrazi overlords, are you really happy about it when they beget puns that bad? I thought-knot…
“If it can’t kill you by turn three, then it isn’t worth playing.”
Since the Pro Tour, countless words have been written, spoken and tweeted about the new world we live in, where fair decks look like a joke and anything that can’t kill you dead by turn three simply isn’t worth playing.
I’m not going to stray too far into that argument – and I imagine from the tone of this introduction that most of you will be able to guess my feelings on the matter – but instead I’m going to explain why I, a dedicated Spike who is happy to admit to playing primarily to win at all times, am not going to be sleeving up Eldrazi Temples at GP Bologna next weekend.
On the surface, refusing to play one flavour of Eldrazi or the other in Bologna is undiluted craziness. Once I’ve dug deeper into the matter over the coming paragraphs, you’ll probably see that it remains undiluted craziness. The statistics that the decks are putting up are absurd. Six copies in the Pro Tour Top 8. About 50% of the day two field at the recent SCG Open in Louisville. This is the most busted collection of cards seen at the top level in any comparable format since the Glimpse of Nature-fuelled Elves deck at Pro Tour Berlin 2008, by almost any metric you care to think of. It is the best deck.
The “why” is easy. Whichever build of Eldrazi you favour – and there are plenty to choose from – it cheats on mana in a way that’s more efficient than anything we’ve seen before in Modern. A “fair” deck, playing bog-standard lands, has accrued a total of six mana to spend by turn three if it hits every land drop. An Eldrazi deck, packing at least eight lands which act as the equivalent of painless Ancient Tombs, has the potential to hit twelve mana total in the same time frame.
That’s such an enormous leap in resources that the Eldrazi deck simply has a ludicrous advantage over anything else in terms of what it can accomplish in the opening phases of the game. If you’re on the draw against Eldrazi, you can be facing lethal having only resolved a solitary Serum Visions. The fact that they actually get to to use all this extra mana on cards that are really powerful means the edge they have becomes gigantic.
Tron, of course, tries to make use of the same edge in resources but it does so in a much less efficient fashion. Assuming you hit the full Urzatron by turn three, you have access to an additional four mana over those three turns. That’s also a huge swing, but the difference is that Tron decks have to dedicate a big percentage of their deck to cards which do nothing but find the requisite lands in the first place – so they’re forced to spend the first two turns doing nothing proactive in order to get that advantage, and once they get there aren’t even guaranteed to have a huge number of ways to take advantage of the mana jump. The Eldrazi decks don’t have to do any work at all for their extra mana – they get that advantage turn after turn and get to deploy threats at the same time.
So, given the overwhelming evidence of the superiority of the Eldrazi decks, I’m planning to register four copies of Kitchen Finks, and I’ll be getting my mana advantage the old-fashioned way: with 0/1 creatures that die to Lightning Bolt.
Let me explain why I’m drifting away from the path of sanity…
Playing What You Enjoy
First of all – I hate that Eldrazi deck. Modern was, before the Pro Tour, one of my absolute favourite formats because it was incredibly open and there were a huge range of decks all trying to win in different ways. Right now, if you aren’t turning stuff sideways as fast as humanly possible (or, in the case of the Eldrazi, inhumanly possible), you probably won’t even get to play a game.
Decks like that have always been around of course, but it felt like the right counter-measures were available if that wasn’t your cup of tea. Thanks to Eldrazi Temple, most of those measures no longer work. There are very few viable decks which can both compete with the Eldrazi decks and have a reasonable match-up against the broader field. My determination to find one of these few remaining decks that can do that, can be explained by stepping back in time to GP Milan 2014.
Allow me to set the scene for you – it’s December, the rain is hammering down outside, and I’m in a large tournament hall in Milan. It’s my first Modern GP. Back then, the format was facing down another new menace – Treasure Cruise. The format was more or less Cruise, Birthing Pod or bust. I didn’t want to bust, so I played a Cruise deck – in this case, Jeskai Burn. I hated it. The deck was great but I just found it stultifying to play. All I was doing, game after game, was throwing cards at my opponent whilst counting to twenty. If the number I reached was lower, I would cast a Treasure Cruise and start counting again.
Now, I did particularly poorly in Milan, but that wasn’t the reason that I regretted my deck choice. The problem was that I loathed it – and because I loathed it, I had found myself unwilling to spend hours testing the deck, learning my match-ups and tweaking the list. I had convinced myself that because it was one of the clear best decks of the format, I should be playing it – but hadn’t been in the right frame of mind to actually get it right. That cost me enormously.
I learned a very important lesson that weekend – don’t ever play a deck that you don’t want to, because no matter how disciplined you are with yourself (and discipline is, in total honesty, not my strong point), you will end up cutting corners in testing, and cutting those corners is pretty much a guaranteed way to lose.
If you actually like playing the Eldrazi deck, then go for it – but I personally see it as little more interesting than a glorified colourless burn deck, and I know that I would not have the desire to put the required hard yards in if I wanted to play it.
There’s also the simple fact that for a player like me – in other words, a competent and improving player but not yet an actual world-beater – the odds on actually winning a GP, with any deck, are really very low. That’s not self-deprecation and it certainly won’t stop me trying, but I simply don’t have a play skill edge on the top end of the field at a GP. At a PPTQ, I might and often do. That won’t be the case when the top of the field do this for a living.
A significant part of my EV from the tournament – into which I will have sunk hundreds of pounds in flights, accommodation and spending money – therefore comes from my ability to enjoy my weekend. If I play a deck I hate, my EV drops dramatically because I won’t be having fun grinding it for two full days. When I know that I’d need to finish 12-3 just to get the bulk of my money back (not even all of it), I need to make sure I’m getting my value in other ways.
That also leads me on to the second reason I’m not playing Eldrazi – mirror matches.
Eldrazi Mirror Matches
In the mirror, while play skill and deckbuilding ability undoubtedly matters, the luck of the draw matters far more. I expect the top tables – and because that’s where I’m aiming to be, that’s the portion of the metagame that I’ll be worrying about – to be about 50% Eldrazi. That would mean, were I to play Eldrazi myself, that I would then expect to play four or five mirror matches over the thirteen rounds minimum of Swiss.
If you watched the Pro Tour coverage live, you may well have noticed that almost all of the many Eldrazi mirror games on camera were determined by opening hands. It was impossible to keep a hand which didn’t contain Temple or Eye of Ugin, which meant a lot of games were decided by mulligans – and in almost every such game I’ve seen, the fastest draw has won, regardless of how well the player on the receiving end played. In other words, unless I was able to somehow find a version of Eldrazi that had a significant edge in the mirror match, then I would be trusting my tournament fate to maybe half a dozen coin flips.
Now, those aren’t the worst odds I’ve heard, and maybe I’m only lengthening my odds by playing something else, but I strongly dislike leaving so much of my tournament to chance. I would rather play a deck where as much of what happened in my games as possible was within my control. If I wanted to roll dice all day, I’d go to the casino and play some craps. I want to play poker, metaphorically speaking. I doubt I’d get very far trying to beat a double Eldrazi Mimic draw with an ace-high flush, but you get the gist.
What Other Decks Are There?
So, given that I’ve stubbornly (and perhaps foolishly) set my self against playing Eldrazi, what are the alternatives?
Well, both Affinity and Infect are reasonable enough. They’re also linear decks capable of super-fast draws and so can certainly steal games from under any deck. They are, however, both going to be very well-anticipated so I expect a lot of hate to be pointed at them, and both decks are far better tournament choices when they haven’t got a huge bull’s-eye painted onto their foreheads.
Infect failed to put a single pilot into the Top 32 at the SCG Open last weekend, which is worrying for its future prospects. Affinity did, on the other hand, get 5 copies into the Top 32 including the champion, which bodes more warmly for its future as a rival to Eldrazi.
The only other decks that can realistically beat the Eldrazi menace are, rather weirdly, creature decks. That might sound odd given my explanation for the brokenness of the Eldrazi decks but if you are able to flood the board with dudes then the Eldrazi decks are actually quite bad at finding a way through. The problem is that you not only need to survive the early onslaught but also find a way to end the game before the Eldrazi player does find a way past your defences.
Sideboard cards like Worship can help out there to some extent but I believe it will be important to have a game plan which allows you to stall out the board whilst also having a proactive way to win in a timely fashion. If you’ve seen the screenshot from the SCG Open which shows a Blue-White Eldrazi mirror-match where neither player was able to find a faster start than the other and both ended up with a three-figure number of Scion tokens in play, you’ll know what can happen if you give an Eldrazi pilot too much time to figure out a way to get through.
All of that is part of the reason why I’ve dismissed both Merfolk and Elves as options. Both decks appear to have favourable (or at least close) match-ups against most versions of Eldrazi but I don’t believe the numbers stack up well enough to make up for their poor positioning against the rest of the field. Merfolk, for instance, might be as much as 60% favoured against a typical Eldrazi deck but tends to die horribly to Affinity, which I anticipate will be the second most popular archetype on the weekend.
Gunning for Eldrazi is fine right now but remember that not everybody is a convert, and there will be plenty of people playing different decks either because they’re stubborn old mules like me, because they believe they have a greater edge with a different deck, or just because they only have the cards to play the same deck they’ve always played. That applies to your local GPT as much as it does to the Grand Prix weekend. Just because ninety percent of the decks in Modern are barely viable right now doesn’t mean nobody will be playing them.
Given all of these factors – and with the caveat that I’m not 100% locked in on my choice just yet – I’m looking at playing Melira Company.
It ticks all the boxes. It’s a creature-based deck with the capacity to stall out game states quickly but which also has a proactive combo kill which can be executed surprisingly quickly and consistently. It has a largely positive match-up against the various Eldrazi decks whilst being reasonably well-positioned against the rest of the field. Plus, it’s fun and challenging to play and leaves the pilot in control of their own games, with a huge range of options available on most turns. Having been playing a lot of Rally in Standard lately – a deck which Melira Company resembles somewhat – it’s a style of play I’m both thoroughly enjoying and getting increasingly used to.
So there you have it. I won’t say I feel incredibly confident that my decision is right but I’m prepared to live by the sword so I’ll die by it if needs be, and right now my sword is a bunch of green creatures. Win or lose, I’m going to make sure I have a great time in Bologna, whether that’s thanks to my result or thanks to the local beer – and until next time, may you also find a way to make hay even when the sun isn’t shining.
Thanks for reading,
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